Knowing your worth as an actor – Industry Insight

Written by | The Business of Acting

We continue our chat with actress Yolanda Wood about her experience being a black actress in the regional film market of Salt Lake City and her her advice to those in regional markets who are starting out and what you need to put towards your career.  Read part one here.

RG: People tend to think that to be an actor, you have to be a gorgeous guy or the woman with the perfect body. Let’s talk a little bit about what’s out there. One of my favorite actors is a little person in a wheel chair—the world is diverse, why do we think that we have to lose that last five pounds after the baby’s born before we can audition again? I know a lot of people reading this might think that they aren’t good enough to start auditioning; will you touch on the fact that they are good enough?

YW: Yes, here’s the beauty of life: everyone has their own POV about life, which is never the same. People are like snowflakes; no two are alike—even identical twins are different. To me, it’s about being able to be okay with what’s going on. This is the real world; there are black people, little people, white people, Asian people, people with acne. We’re in a country where we’re surrounded by all of that—that is all real—why would we not celebrate that? Why do we have to pretend that that stuff doesn’t happen? It’s one of the reasons why I like reading European trash magazines—everyone looks the way they’re supposed to look and not photo shopped. There’s so much beauty in the world without all of that—why do we have to fabricate that? We don’t need to—there’s already so much beauty.

I teach a student that is a little person and he is one of the funniest, most incredible people that I have ever met. I don’t think of him as “a little person;” I think of him as an actor that’s really trying really hard, and to watch him have a break-through was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen as an acting coach. When you stay with an actor and they have that breakthrough—that moment where they get it, where they’re in the zone—I always compare it to when you’re running and there’s that moment when the whole world shuts down and you’re just there and you’re being—there’s nothing greater than that. It’s spiritual. It’s spiritual.

RG: Obviously, I couldn’t agree more with you, but I think that it’s also realistic to let people know that they’re not always going to come across casting directors and directors that feel that way and that they have to carry themselves with the pride of being exactly who you are and you need to surround yourself with people who can see past what you are in casting and according to stereotype.

you can do this job but you have to put something towards it. No one knocks on your door—I don’t think it’s ever happened in entertainment, I think someone fed everyone a bunch of crap—but no one knocks on your door and says, “Let’s go make you a star!” It doesn’t happen.

YW: Absolutely! The world is changing; we’re opened up to so many things now—the internet, being able to travel—we’re seeing things that we’ve never seen before. You know, I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, I’ve seen the Berlin Wall up and down, I’ve seen gay marriage be legalized, I’ve seen a black president. This is a beautiful world—we are breaking down all kinds of barriers and it’s going to happen in acting too. A good actor is a good actor, regardless of what they look like or are or aren’t. Sometimes I get upset when people feel “We have to have a woman in this position,” or “We need to have a black person in this position.” Why are we forcing people to do any of that? We don’t need to force you to do it. What we need to do is show up, do our jobs, be professional, and be present. That’s what we need to do, and that’s why people will start to hire you—not about all of this other stuff. Just start showing up. It’s an issue, and it’s an issue here for me. It’s really hard because there aren’t a lot of black actors in town, so if I go on a set and I’m talking to a producer or someone, they say, “Man, you’re so good and you’re so nice,” and it got to the point where I’ve said, “Why do you say that? I’m just doing what I do.” And the response: “Because we don’t get that. It’s either they’re not really talented, or they show up late, or they won’t do their job—they’re just not professional.” And that’s the thing that I want to show my community: you can do this job but you have to put something towards it. No one knocks on your door—I don’t think it’s ever happened in entertainment, I think someone fed everyone a bunch of crap—but no one knocks on your door and says, “Let’s go make you a star!” It doesn’t happen. You have to put in the work, and that’s what I try to teach people here. No matter who you are, if you show up late, guess what? There’s someone that showed up early. I’m going to take them in. You don’t do your job, the next one’s just a phone call away, especially now—the industry is flooding now because now the opportunities are there.

RG: Absolutely. So, now you are talking to a young actor reading this who just graduated college, and maybe they are in Minneapolis and they don’t know how to get an agent, they don’t know where to get an agent—they don’t know how to start. Can you give that person a few tips?

YW: Start local. I truly believe that if you start local, you create a fan base, and a fan base like your home base—there’s nothing like it. You know, everybody in this industry can go home—you can always go home, so I would say start there. Start in theater, get a good headshot, get your resume together, and get a demo reel. Those things will get you in the door so that people will start to see you. If you’re having trouble finding the kind of work that you need to, start doing free work. Unfortunately, that’s where you start to get your demo reel going. So, call the universities, your local community colleges, anything that has to do with it—go to your local camera shop and say, “Look, there’s tons of people that are coming in here and buying cameras, I’m an actor, if someone’s looking for somebody, here’s a number.” You have to be proactive with your career; like I said, no one is going to be coming to your door to get it going, so get yourself a good demo reel going. You have to start there.

RG: Thank you. Can you give us one final statement about this industry?

YW: Know your worth; don’t let anyone else decide your worth. Know your own worth.

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Last modified: October 6, 2017

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